Shellac and Swing!

A Social History of the Gramophone in Britain

Bruce Lindsay

Shellac and Swing! tells the story of the gramophone's ‘golden age,' when it helped to shape Britain's musical, social and political life and impacted widely on art, literature, style and design. Its heyday ended in the '50s with the rise of the record player, but it thrives today as part of Britain's vibrant contemporary music and lifestyle scene.
Date Published :
April 2020
Publisher :
Fonthill Media
Illustration :
35 color and black & white
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781781557600

Dimensions : 9.21 X 6.14 inches
Stock Status : In stock


Shellac and Swing! tells the story of the gramophone’s ‘golden age,’ from 1900-1955, when it helped to shape Britain’s culture from the arts to warfare. The story focuses on the gramophone, the invention of Emile Berliner in the 1880s, but begins with a brief outline of the first attempts to record the human voice and of Edison’s invention of the cylinder and the phonograph. It uses primary evidence, images and interviews with DJs, fans, musicians and historians to explore this fascinating and often eccentric tale. Each chapter ends with ‘On the Record,’ a discussion of a record that relates to the chapter’s themes. Although the gramophone and its fragile shellac discs were vital to Britain’s music scene—opera and music hall, the Jazz Age, the crooners, early rock’n’roll—its impact was far more extensive. Its place in British history encompasses advertising and design, fraud and piracy, phallic symbols, talking books, the threat from radio and TV, the contrasting worlds of the Salvation Army and adult ‘party’ discs, the creation of a parliamentary insult, new political strategies and the seditious activity of the Mau Mau. From the establishment of the Gramophone Company in London in the late 1890s to the end of shellac record production in the 1950s, the British public bought the machines and the discs in their millions and the record labels made stars of performers like Caruso, Harry Lauder, Al Bowlly and Dame Nellie Melba. ‘Shellac and Swing!’ explores the ways in which the gramophone helped these singers to achieve stardom but it also explores in detail and for the first time many other stories of not-so-famous performers, of the gramophone in political electioneering and of forgotten technology: the first pirate radio broadcasters, the soldiers who took their ‘Trench Decca’ portables to the Western Front, the invention of the Flame-O-Phone, the People’s Budget recordings and the pioneering label owner and producer of ‘blue’ discs. The gramophone’s heyday ended with the rise of rock ’n ’roll, teenagers, the 45 rpm single, the LP and the record player, but it survives today as part of a vibrant contemporary music, fashion and lifestyle scene.

About The Author

Bruce Lindsay is a writer, born in England of Scottish parents at almost the same time as rock ’n ’roll arrived in Britain. A music lover since the age of five, his first record purchase was a copy of Elvis Presley’s Devil in Disguise and his first record review, in 1974, was of a Johnny Rivers album. After a career in health care and university teaching, and a parallel but shorter and less successful career as a semi-professional musician, Bruce is now a freelance music journalist specialising in jazz and blues. He holds a PhD in history and has published articles and books on late 19th and early 20th century British society and health care. As a music journalist he has published around 1,000 articles and reviews for publications including ‘All About Jazz’, ‘Jazz Journal’ and ‘Norwich Magazine’. He has appeared on radio, discussing music and playing records, and he has presented workshops and lectures at music festivals across Europe. Bruce lives close to the city of Norwich, in Norfolk, with his wife Julie. They have two sons. Bruce is a keen cyclist and walker, spending as much time as he can in the hills of Norfolk and Suffolk.


Acknowledgements; Introduction; Prologue: Monsieur Scott has a Great Idea; 1 The Old Familiar Voice; 2 From Bum Artists to William Gladstone; 3 Parlours, Pubs, and Parliament: The Gramophone Moves In; 4 In the Drawing-Room or Nursery, and For Out-of-Doors; 5 Stick Around for the New Jazz Band; 6 BBC Sundays and the Gramophone Pirates; 7 The Most Famous Zebra Crossing in The World; 8 Al Bowlly’s Dead and Gone; 9 Multimedia Mayhem; 10 Dansettes and Teens; 11 Shellac’s Back!; Endnotes; Bibliography.

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